“We often find female candidates to be as competitive, if not more so, than their male counterparts,” said Adeline Wong, head of HR for Booz & Co. in greater China.
One reason for their drive: China’s one-child policy. Introduced in 1979 as a strict population control measure, the policy has had important ramifications for women who are now in their 20s and early 30s, especially in the urban areas where it was most heavily enforced.
“Because I was ‘the only,’ I was the target of my father’s fierce ambitions,” recalls one executive surveyed. “If I’d had a brother, this would not have happened.” Taught by their parents that they are just as good as boys — “if not better,” says another anonymous survey respondent — “[we] definitely don’t have an issue with self-worth.”
Yet, a powerful combination of cultural traditions, gender bias and the demanding nature of today’s extreme jobs can derail even the most motivated, high-performing woman. “Yeah, we hold up half the sky,” said a female senior manager for a multinational pharmaceutical company, echoing Mao Zedong’s famous proclamation, “but there are 5,000 years of history dragging us back.”
Comparatively speaking, child care isn’t the career-crippler it can be in the West. The vast majority of the Chinese women surveyed — 80 percent — had mothers who worked, and there is no social stigma in sending one’s child to day care, boarding school or to live with a grandparent during the work week (Figure 3).